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Industry "Playing Chicken" with Chesapeake?

July 28, 2011

WASHINGTON - Chicken - fried, grilled, baked or broiled - is the top meat of choice in Virginia and around the nation, but a new report warns that the amount of manure produced by big industrial chicken farms is fouling Chesapeake Bay.

Pew Environment released the report, which examined the past 50 years of the chicken industry.

The average American, the study says, eats almost 84 pounds of chicken every year - more than twice the amount in 1970. Spurred by that demand for all things fowl, the poultry industry has expanded drastically, says Karen Steuer, director of Pew's Campaign on Reforming Industrial Animal Agriculture. Small family farms have been mostly replaced with large industrialized operations, she says.

"In 1950, every state in the country had farms raising chickens for the market, but by 2007 the number of farms growing chickens dropped by 98 percent. That's at the same time as the production goes up 1,400 percent."

The amount of chicken manure produced each year around Chesapeake Bay alone is enough to fill the dome of the U.S. Capitol about 50 times, Steuer says. Manure from farming operations is one of the leading causes of pollution in the bay, she says, and the industry is fighting cleanup efforts and trying to weaken the Clean Water Act.

Small farms typically can use the manure as fertilizer, Steuer says, but the sheer amount from large industrial operations makes that difficult. She says the poultry industry needs to shoulder more responsibility for managing the manure.

"The bottom line is that we believe this industry can no longer demand to be treated as though chickens are produced on small family farms. This is industrial production. It results in industrial levels of pollution, and we should regulate it just like we regulate every other industry."

The National Chicken Council and U.S. Poultry and Egg Association say producers in Virginia have taken steps to reduce their environmental impacts. They say most poultry manure is used as crop fertilizer.

The report, "Big Chicken: Pollution and Industrial Poultry Production in America," is online at

Monique Coppola, Public News Service - VA